A History of Austria - Part II

Iron Age Cultures: Austria goes Civilization

In the end, Ötzi and all his possessions were transferred to Bozen in South Tyrol, where he got his own fancy museum. There are other important findings from the Neolithic Age in Austria, though. Many lakes on the outskirts of the Alps had significant settlements and the "Mondsee Culture" was named after Mondsee in the Salzkammergut. It had characteristic houses built on pillars into the lake itself.

The Salzkammergut is the cradle of Austrian civilisation

During the Bronze Age, a significant urbanisation takes place: many settlements built walls and fortifications. This was done to protect mines and metal resources as well as important centres of trade and transportation. New professions developed and the old ones got more specialised. Elaborately equipped burial sites were found in Lower Austria (Franzhausen) and the first salt mines were started in Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut.

During the Iron Age, these trends continued. However, the influence of Mediterranean cultures increases and new ethnicities arrive in the Alps. They became increasingly Celtic, a change that happened gradually and not through a single invasion. The so-called Latene culture in the Salzkammergut around Hallstatt was already Celtic. This area turned into a centre for culture and therefore, a period in the early Iron Age is named after this town.

The "Hallstatt Age" & the "Latene Culture"

The local cultures especially north of the Alps that developed during the Iron Age are divided into the "Hallstatt Culture" and the "Latene Culture". The Hallstatt Culture rose in the early Iron Age in the Salzkammergut. It covered two distinct areas, the Western and the Eastern Circle. The Western one had trade relations with Greek colonies of the Liguric coast in Northern Italy as well as Etruscian people. The Eastern Circle was more strongly influenced by the people of the Panonnian plains and Southern Russia.

Hallstatt is the cradle of civilisation in Austria

The trade with salt made the people of Hallstatt rich and they could afford the import of luxury items from as far as Northern Africa. The oldest findings of wine is Austria originate from this period, raised in Zagersorf in the Burgenland province. An important religious piece of art was found in Strettweg in Styria, a display of a carriage. The Latene Culture dominated Austria in the period after the Hallstatt Culture. It was represented by the newly arrived Celtic people, who consisted of several tribes. They built the first "state" on Austrian territory, a kingdom called "Noricum". Easy to guess, it was dominated by the tribe of the Noricans.

The very West of Austria was populated by Raetian tribes and not part of Noricum, the very East of Austria was Panonnian land. Centres of the Latene Culture were the Dürrnberg mountain and Hallein near Salzburg with its rich salt mines. In Eastern Austria, particularly the Oberpullendorf Bay in the Burgenland, developed a booming iron trade with the arising Roman Empire. Several towns in all parts of Noricum build walls to secure their wealth, and power becomes more centralised during the days of the Latene Culture.

Imperium Romanum: Under Roman rule

The bigger part of Austria was annexed by the Roman Empire in 15 BC. Did you see the movie "Gladiator"? Remember Commodus, the evil Emperor, son of Marcus Aurelius? That′s the man! He was in charge with the move, but it was more or less only a slight change in the administration, since Noricum has already had close trade and military relationships with the Roman Empire. The "philosopher emperor" Marcus Aurelius himself had died near Vindobona (which later turned into Vienna), and the annexation of Noricum followed a long time after the kingdom had been covered by Roman roads, towns and army bases.

The Heidentor is the most famous trace of Roman culture in Austria

In the West, however, the Romans faced some fierce opposition from Raetian tribes. The borders of the now Roman province of "Regnum Noricum" were fixed under the reign of Emperor Claudius (41 to 54 AD), bordering to the province "Raetia" in the West (the opposition didn′t last long; this province included today′s Vorarlberg and Tyrol) and "Pannonia" in the East. The Romans did in Noricum what they did elsewhere in Europe: They built roads, temples and towns. They set up a modern administration. They built villas with floor-heating systems and baths. They built more roads. Ate, drank and complained about the cold. The Celtic culture and languages persisted and gradually merged with the Roman or disappeared.

Only few existing towns in Austria are derived from Celtic settlements (Linz does, for example). Most other towns and cities are derived from the more sophisticated Roman cities, of which Carnuntum in today′s Lower Austria was the most important one. Vindobona (today′s Vienna) was a sleepy army camp and Iuvavum (Salzburg) at best a place where you stayed over night on the way somewhere else. Significant settlements were Virunum (near Klagenfurth in Carinthia) and Teurnia (near Spittal an der Drau).

In the 2nd century, Christianity became more popular among the Romans and other people of Noricum. There were many other religions common at the same time, though, including the Mithras cult that war particularly favoured by soldiers of the Empire. Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion after he had converted, and the religious administration developed from the 4th century onwards. Gradually, the power of Rome faded.

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Further Reading

"Austrian History in less than 1000 words"

"A Jewish History of Austria"

A Complete List of all Austrian Monarchs